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Last Night at Ava Kitchen & Whiskey Bar

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I’m still happy, impressed and full from last night’s tasting and radio interview with Chef Robert del Grande at his new Ava Kitchen & Whiskey Bar in the West Ave development, which already includes so many good things. And while I only purchase things I can immediately pile into or onto my body, I’m told that retail is coming on strong at West Ave this summer. Steak and frites (pictured above) were the highlight for me, the best version of this French literally-meat-and-potatoes classic I’ve ever had. And in an unbroken line from Bar Annie – these incredible fries can be devoured with anything or with nothing.

The menu at Ava shows little devotion to the Ghosts of del Grande Past, meaning the mostly Southwestern flavors that powered his first fame and fortune at the original Cafe Annie, which begat the new/improved Cafe Annie, which begat the very MUCH new and improved RDG + Bar Annie. Still, there is a kind of “Fresh Mex” wonderment in the Gulf Crabmeat Cocktail, with tomatoes and avocado, plus a smooth-lush avocado sauce.

And, speaking of fresh, Mexican and seafood in the same breath, I have to mention the yellowtail ceviche. It’s kind of sashimi turned into ceviche in terms of quality (a bit like Kobe chicken-fried steak, maybe?), and it’s the perfect balance at your table to the Italian spin, crudo of ahi tuna with cucumbers, radishes and green onions. The ceviche comes spryly packaged with mango, jicama and Fresno chile.

     

If you prefer to enjoy your fish on the cooked-over-actual-heat side of things, the Ava kitchen has a terrific new redfish dish for you to try. It’s Texas redfish, of course, named pecheur (fisherman) in both quotes and italics, for emphasis I suppose. The so-called “Gulf Coast shrimp sauce” is interesting, consisting of finely chopped shrimp in what I’m told is a kind of marinara. If you’ve spent time among the faces of Gulf Coast fishing docks in the past decade or two, you can’t tell with this dish where the Italian ends and the Vietnamese begins.

Del Grande says his idea for Ava is “circling back” to the dishes from around the world that inspired him as a young chef, so it’s a given that the best dessert is a glorious tarte Tatin, with layers of super-thin caramelized apples. But also try Ava’s different-tasting spin on baklava (pictured), with a filling of dried cherries and pistachio, plus a scoop of amazing vanilla gelato. Somehow here, the construction of baklava gets entangled with the construction of fig newton – and you’ll be very glad they did!

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About John DeMers

I've been a journalist and author forever. My favorite single word in the English language is "foodandwine." This spirit drives my 45 published books and my weekly radio show heard in Houston, Dallas and Austin.

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